May 16, 2019 (Health) We live in a society with an obesity epidemic. This is hardly a secret. We also have a multi-billion industry that makes its money out of this epidemic with the promise of a quick fix. You can go to the store and find all kinds of products to help you lose weight. You can also find as many diet books as you want.

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Fresh oregano, via Wikipedia

These books, shakes, vitamins, hell red apple vinegar, make a series of claims. Most are anywhere from crazy to nuts. No, vinegar is not going to change your metabolism. If you choose to eat organic, good for you, but seriously, for the most part, it will make little difference in your waist. There are other benefits, but I digress. The promise of paleo, or fasting could be downright dangerous. Gluten-free is not going to get rid of that belly fat. Frequent fasting will help wreck your metabolism. We know this. We also have science on this.

What do these diets have in common? They all are some form of privation. Keto cuts dramatically all carbohydrates. This has some very real world side effects. The commonly reported “brain fog” is the brain demanding energy, and carbohydrates are a quick source of it. Gluten removes a lot of food from your pantry, and unless you have Celiacs or an actual allergy to gluten, there is no reason. Enjoy that brioche bun!

Then there are the specialized diets that even cook for you. If you are busy and have no time to cook, I suppose they can be a good investment. However, what happens when you reach your goal? Did you learn how to properly eat? Do you have any idea about portions? Most of these programs are not designed to do that. And we know from multiple studies that all these diets, gluten-free, keto, fasting, any commercial diet with a food delivery program, ultimately fail.

They can also lead to disordered eating, or other issues, yes including Bulimia and Anorexia.

They are something else though. They are a mirror into the nature of American society. We still have a puritanical strain going back to the Massachusetts Bay colony. And things like gluttony have to be punished. Ultimately your weight gain is a moral failing. And this is why diets, all of them, have such stigma. They all punish you by removing favorite foods as well as pleasure.

Let’s be clear on this. Diet should not be a dirty word. After all, if you sit down and eat a family size bag of chips, that is a diet. So is the salad, with arugula, organic this and that, and clean food. (Incidentally, That is one of the latest fads, I suspect we will see a lot more of this clean food movement.) You are a locavore? That is a diet too. So anything you eat is a diet. In other words, going on a diet makes little sense once you realize what the word actually describes.

It literally comes down to how many calories you consume and how many your body burns in a day. If you are in a caloric deficit, I promise, you will lose weight if you only eat chocolate. It’s not advisable since you will not get all the nutrients you need, but you get the point.

Ultimately what you eat is fuel for your body. You can choose your fuels, and chiefly, you can enjoy your foods, or not. And this is where diets become a form of punishment. You’ve been very bad. You allowed yourself to get to a certain size. You fell off the wagon, you have no discipline. Let’s dispense the science we are increasingly learning on the subject, the fact is that a person going on a diet under social pressure is also engaging in self-deprivation and self-hate. If you need to shed a few pounds for health reasons, do it for yourself, not the upcoming wedding, or to fit into those pants, or because you want to show somebody up.

Part of this self-punishment involves what people chose to eat while on a diet. These tend to be bland foods. Full disclosure, I enjoy cottage cheese, but it has a reputation because it can be bland. Myself, I like it in the morning, with a gluten-free waffle, (another full disclosure, I am actually gluten intolerant, it is not a fad for me, but a medical condition.) I add to it sugar-free strawberry or boysenberry jam. It is a tasty and filling breakfast. It also hits a few wickets, including protein and fiber.

However, I do not think it is diet food. This matters.

So going back to this self-punishment, we live in a society that worships young people, who are thin and in shape. Those who are larger in size are told they are weak-willed, and fat shaming is common. Fat jokes are a thing that is still accepted, and people are punished with this humor, and at times they repeat the jokes themselves not realizing the damage they do.

Oh, never mind that we now know that medications can make you gain weight, at times in spectacular fashion. We also know that genetics plays a critical role. These facts escape us, and instead, we punish ourselves by avoiding certain foods we like. We are told that fat people are weak-willed, and if they eat a little ice cream, they, of course, will eat the whole tub! We know how this inner conversation runs because many of us have had it. We also know that this leads to people feeling sorry for themselves. In turn, this is a recipe for emotional eating. This is a serious problem, and some people are more prone to it than others. We also now know that some people are always hungry. This is genetics, and in time we may see a solution via research.

Think about food in the full social context. Yes, food is fuel. This at the core is what it is, nothing more or less. However, food is also memory, and attachment and family. Our first memories involve family dinners and home cooking. At least it should. We are also living in a society where increasingly take out and pre-made food is becoming central. More on this later.

Food is so critical that the smell of a meal can trigger deep-seated memories, some good, some bad. For me, the taste of matzah balls reminds me of many a family Seder, with my family as a young child. It even brings back memories of us kids playing with my brother’s model train. It is about my mother. Yes, a warm chicken soup, with a nice and fluffy ball is both memory and fuel. And they do make them gluten-free, so when my sister made some for Passover this year, they triggered many happy memories.

The smell of pozole on the stove also reminds me of a lot of good things. And I am betting all who read this will have particular foods that do this for them as well. Food and memory are powerful elements of family and life. They are part of who we are as social animals.

But, but, these two foods are full of carbs! Yes and you can still enjoy them. This is also why holidays are so hard for people to deal with. The foods tied to holidays are powerful memory triggers. They bring both good and bad things. And they are laden with meaning that is very personal.

But it is not just holiday foods. Any particular dish can do this if it's linked to something that left an impression in your mind. Which brings me back to bland foods. Why is it that people punish themselves? Most of these holiday foods tend to be calorie dense. And we are under the impression that bland foods are less calorie dense. Fried foods will have more calories, yes, but not necessarily more flavor. So we need to retrain ourselves.

Over the last generation, as we have increasingly become a society under economic pressure, people have less time to cook. At times people do not know how to cook or like to cook. People also do not understand that cooking can be cheaper than taking out. If you have no idea how to cut a tomato or an onion, it is time to learn. You can even find videos of basic cooking skills on YouTube. You are fighting a trend though.

For the first time ever, Americans in 2014 spent more money on food away from home than food prepared and consumed at home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS). Spending at “away from home” locations including restaurants, school cafeterias, and sports venues made up 50.1% of the $1.46 trillion Americans spent on food for the year, with the remaining 49.9% going toward grocery-store purchases.

In 1960, Americans spent just 26.3% of their incomes on food away from home. The gap has almost doubled over time.

There are more varied options for eating outside the home, Todd said, helped by the rise of “fast casual,” or “grab and go” restaurants such as Chipotle CMG, +1.20% Shake Shack SHAK, -1.71% and Pret a Manger.

It is time we reclaim those skills as a society. Why? Ordering out will put a crimp on your plans and your wallet. But it is also not good for you, because the portions tend to be very large, and they also have higher amounts of salt, fat, and sugar. Yes, that tasty salad at times has added sugar because it keeps you eating. We have known this for some time. The food industry needs you to consume, and they formulate food to make it addictive. This is why you cannot have a single chip. They are designed to keep you eating because that translates into more sales.

But a sliced tomato is diet food! I hear you, but sliced tomato pairs well with a burger, and a pizza, and it is delicious with some things like sandwiches. It is also nutrient-rich, and you might need to retrain yourself on how you look at food. That cake is delicious and a nice treat from time to time, but it is calorie dense, and has little nutritional value. That salad is nutrient-rich and does not have to be the boring thing that you think off. A salad can have anything, and it is not just iceberg lettuce, with a few tomatoes and lots of salad dressing. In fact, that is not even appealing to me!

Then comes the classic kitchen breast, just made on a skillet. It tends to be dry, bland and boring. So how do you make it tastier?

Here is where spices to flavor food come in. They make food burst with flavor. You can use herbs as well, and one of my favorite things to use is Zaatar. I use it to make a mean chicken with veggies on the stove. The oregano, thyme and other spices make the chicken pop with flavor. I bought it on a whim at the farmers market, and you can find it online. Fair warning, some commercial blends have flour, so if you cannot eat gluten, read ingredients. The one I bought is oregano, lemon zest, Thyme, and sesame seeds. Some mixtures also have salt.

You need to find time to cook and cook recipes that are not that complicated but flavorful. I dip often into Mexican cuisine. I hear you, but…it is fattening! The restaurant offerings often are, but not what I make at home. I make a lot of sauces that contain the dry chilies, such as Guajillo and Cascabel. They need to be rehydrated, after lightly toasting them. It is a tad of work, but the food is intense, and lower in calories than your classic restaurant offerings. They are also what people eat every day, not the calorie dense offerings you find at restaurants. This means I have to find time to cook, and we know that Americans have a lot less time to do this than they used to.

In other words, at home, we are not going for the bland “diet food.” Why? Bland food is not sustainable long term, and lord knows I like to eat food that is full of taste, texture, and flavor. I hate to punish myself and the advise that you should not eat food full of flavor is a way to punish yourself.

However, a rule of thumb. You can either weight your food or use the plate method. I personally use the plate method, and we recently bought new dishes that today are salad plates. They. used to be main dishes a couple of decades ago. I will add this, for us meat, whether it is chicken or meat, is not the main star of the meal. It is used as a flavoring. We try to keep ourselves to the recommended standard of four ounces for red meat or chicken in a meal.

Oh, and since I use a food log, I log everything.

As a bonus, here is my chicken Zaatar recipe. I use either chicken breast or chicken thigh. Yes, the thigh has a little more fat, but really, I get whichever is cheaper that day. The difference in the calorie count is not that high.

1 red onion (you can use white, or whichever you like)
3 garlic teeth, you can substitute with powder or already precut garlic in a jar.
A teaspoon of oil
Zatar, a tablespoon
Soy sauce to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Whatever veggie I have in the fridge. Today I will make it with brócoli, carrots, and mushrooms

You can use bell peppers, I personally prefer red, or cabbage or zucchini. You can even use all those instead of the broccoli, the carrots and the mushrooms. Be creative! And chiefly, enjoy!

Slice your onion thinly, as well as your garlic (I use a garlic press since the skin does not agree with my husband)

Sauté both until they caramelize in a teaspoon of good quality oil, cut your chicken into one-inch cubes, Add to the skillet, and add your veggies and soy sauce, Zatar and seasoning, and cover to ensure the chicken cooks. Serve with warm rice pilaf or fresh tortillas.

Of note, if you are gluten intolerant or have celiacs, they do make gluten free soy sauce.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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